“Go Live with the Arabs” by Lital Abazon
In Lital Abazon’s flash fiction piece “‘Go Live with the Arabs,’” we’re introduced to a young Israeli girl who desperately yearns to be as popular and attractive as her classmate, Shiraz. As the girls’ paths intersect with one another, our young protagonist soon discovers a more complex, challenging world exists beyond Shiraz’s and her own, adding a unique layer to this coming-of-age story. The juxtapositions found within this piece, as well as the setting in which they are presented, build a bridge between the familiar and unfamiliar. Abazon describes in her author’s note that writing this piece has been a reflection on how to translate her own being into an American context. She goes on to say:
This was my entryway to convey something of the ever-untranslatable notion of childhood, of girlhood, especially in a foreign context—my foreign context. I decided not to try to properly translate the little girls of 1990s Israel, but rather let them speak directly, strangely, in an English not their own. The English of those who see themselves as being so close to America that they are virtually part of it, when in fact they are as far away as imaginably possible.
We hope you enjoy reading “‘Go Live with the Arabs.’” This is Abazon’s first literary publication in English. —CRAFT
Everything about Shiraz’s mom is dark and shiny, especially her black vinyl coat. Her lipstick is the same deep purple as the polish on her long nails and her high-heeled strappy sandals. I once asked Mom to try on sandals like this when we went shopping. Mom burst out laughing. She bought me flats instead. I never wore them.
Shiraz and I are in the same homeroom. Her twin brother Daniel is in the other homeroom. He’s a bad kid. That’s why their dad spends more time in the principal’s office than the drugstore he owns behind school. The drugstore has slushy machines and a big TV that’s always on the loudest volume. Outside, there are two picnic tables with ashtrays. A bunch of men who aren’t anyone’s dads sit there, watching football and scraping lottery tickets. Some kids go to the drugstore after school to buy candy. I never go. I’m too scared the men will stare at me.
My dad owns a clinic where all his university report cards hang on the wall next to a painting of a man playing chess with himself. My mom also has a career. She draws plans that make water move around, which is important because we live in a desert, even the coastal parts, even Tel-Aviv. It’s only because of science that people don’t drop dead of thirst every day, she says. That’s why she hates wasting her time attending parent-teacher conferences. Tonight, she’s talking with Shiraz’s mom. “What can they be talking about?” I whisper to Shiraz. Before she gets the chance to answer, Yael comes over and says, “Your mom has cool nails.” She isn’t talking about my mom.
Later, we give Shiraz and her mom a ride home; they don’t have a car. The small, run-down houses in their neighborhood look nothing like the apartment buildings where we live. There is no pavement, no lighting on their street. When Shiraz’s mom gets out of the car, she stands in the headlights. Her coat shines as she turns and walks toward their house. As we leave, I ask Mom why this place looks so weird. She tells me this neighborhood used to be a Palestinian village called Sheik Munis. “Was our neighborhood a Palestinian village?” I ask. “No, no” she replies, to my relief. “Ours was all empty dunes.”
The popular girls put pieces of blue masking tape on their fingernails the next day. They invite Shiraz to sit with them and spend all first period admiring their hands. Back home, I try to make my own nails, but all I have is regular tape. I ask Mom if I can buy fake nails at the drugstore with my own money. Mom says, “Are you out of your mind?” Then adds, “It’s outrageous when women spend money on things that just limit them. We need our hands!” I ask her why. She sighs, “You can’t even hold a pencil with those things.”
Shiraz arrives to school with an issue of Teen magazine. There’s a small picture of her in the back for getting into Teen’s 1998 national beauty pageant. She lied and said she was fourteen. She definitely looks fourteen—she wears a real bra. The popular girls wear training bras. When I asked Mom for a training bra, she said, “What for.”
If she wins, Shiraz will get to pick someone to go with her to Disney World in Florida, USA. There’s a roller coaster that goes into a mountain of water without ever getting you wet. But first she must write about her hobbies and send a bathing suit picture. I overhear the popular girls making plans to prepare Shiraz for the photoshoot with makeup they’ll steal from their moms. My mom has no makeup to steal.
Shouts and laughter come from the courtyard. Greenberg crouches, his pants wet. Daniel yells, “Greenberg pissed himself!” But I can see the busted water balloon on the ground. Greenberg slowly walks away as one of the boys kicks him in the butt and shouts, “Don’t poop your pants too!” Some popular girls laugh.
I go home and lock myself in my bedroom with a roll of toilet paper from the bathroom. I make two small toilet paper balls, lift my shirt, and stick them to my chest with tape. Then I pull my shirt down and look at myself in the mirror for a long time. They won’t hold under a swimsuit, but they’re way better than fake nails.
The next day, I use new tape before going to school. Once in the courtyard, I go straight to Yael and whisper that in my family all the women grow breasts overnight. It’s genetic and very rare and last night it happened to me. She says it’s the same in her family and she’ll probably get breasts really soon, too. The popular girls gather around me and ask, “Do they hurt?” Someone says, “Breasts don’t hurt, only periods do,” and Yael says, “Shut up, it all hurts.” We look at Shiraz, who just shrugs.
An old man runs through the school gate into the courtyard. Someone says, “It’s Greenberg’s dad.” The man spots Daniel and leaps at him with a belt. Daniel jumps up on a bench then onto the music room’s barred window and climbs to the single-story roof. The old man whips his belt in the air and screams, YOU PUNK, YOU SAMBO, GO LIVE WITH THE ARABS. Daniel’s friend goes to get Daniel’s dad, who quickly arrives with the men from the picnic benches. They race into the courtyard, yelling WHO DID YOU CALL ARAB, YOU COCKSUCKER?
I run to the bathroom. The shouts outside get louder; they’re beating Greenberg’s dad. I rip the taped toilet paper balls off my chest and throw them in the toilet and flush again and again. I hear Shiraz cry out, begging her father to stop. Mom told me to never flush plastic, but I close my eyes and flush anyway.
LITAL ABAZON is a PhD candidate at the Department of Comparative Literature at Yale University. She works on multilingual literature in Israel and the Maghreb. Her Hebrew poetry has been published in Ma’ayan Magazine. This is her first English literary publication.
Featured image by Annie Spratt courtesy of Unsplash